Measuring Marketing the Key to HVAC Contracting Success
Industry experts discuss best practices for HVAC marketing
The world is constantly changing, especially with the onset of so many new technologies. We live in the information age. There is a proliferation of tools out there that track and provide data in all facets of our lives, from personal fitness and weight loss to commercial building management. And marketing is no different. There are dozens of marketing metrics business owners could track. However, which metrics should they focus on? And how, why, and when should these data be considered?
Here’s what a group of industry experts had to say.
MEASURING IS KEY
According to Todd Bairstow, principal, Keyword Connects, Waltham, Massachusetts, it’s incredibly important for HVAC companies to measure marketing expenses and results.
“The phone doesn’t make itself ring,” he said. “There are a million places to spend marketing dollars poorly and inefficiently, but then you’re just writing checks and not reaching the prospects who are going to drive revenue and grow your business. Putting metrics to marketing spending exposes a roadmap to growth that allows HVAC companies to follow the most profitable marketing activities while ignoring those that don’t generate new customers.”
Bairstow said that while there are many ways to measure marketing, he uses two key tactics.
“First, HVAC business owners should use dedicated phone numbers for all of their marketing sources,” he explained. “Tagging a phone number to a marketing source provides direct proof of phone calls from prospects and that specific marketing source. Assuming that most calls are created equally, it’s a very clear indicator of the success of that marketing source in driving contacts. The second way is to do the same thing with online web forms. If an HVAC business can track the source of its inbound emails or web forms, then it has another key indicator of which online sources drive inbound contacts. This is more complicated than tagging phone numbers, but once you’ve figured it out, it quickly pays for itself. Many people say marketing is both art and science, and I agree. But, to apply the art correctly, you need to know the numbers and follow them to the most profitable end.”
Rebecca Cassel, president of Success Group International (SGI), agreed, saying that measuring marketing is absolutely necessary for contracting businesses.
“What gets measured, gets improved,” she said. “Most contractors are spending a good portion of their budgets on marketing, and if you’re not tracking the results of those investments, you have no way of knowing if you’re spending in the right places. Even for the largest contractors, marketing budgets are finite, so measuring allows you to target your resources in the ways that will allow you to achieve your goals.”
Cassel recommended business owners pay attention to response rates and returns on investment (ROIs).
“For response rates, just take the number of responses that a piece generated divided by the number of pieces you deployed,” she said. “If you generated 10 calls from a postcard that you sent to 100 people, then that’s a 10 percent response rate. Take that a step further and determine what amount of sales you generated from those 10 calls and divide that by the total cost of that postcard. That will give you the return on your investment for that piece.
“By tracking metrics like those over time, you can determine which pieces and tactics drive the best results in your market and with your customers,” she continued. “For the best results, track as much as you can at a campaign or piece level. If you’re rolling all of your results together, you won’t be able to see which pieces or campaigns are bringing in the calls.”
Not all marketing materials are easy to track, however. Ed Cerier, marketing manager, Nexstar Network, said tracking marketing metrics can be quite challenging.
“Take TV. For example, most people are not going to watch TV with a pen and paper nearby to write down a phone number or a web address,” Cerier said. “And they’re probably not going to have the need for those services immediately, anyway. That will happen further on down the line. What the TV ad is doing is raising brand awareness and brand preference so that when somebody does have the need, they can either search for the company by name or recognize a name when they see the search results on Google.
“While the company has created brand awareness with its TV ad, the consumer is still going to Google to either learn more about the company or get the phone number,” he continued. “So, the tracking is going to show the call came from Google, not the TV ad. It’s very difficult to track things like TV, radio, and billboards.”
Even simple campaigns, like direct mail, have tracking challenges, Cerier noted.
“When your direct mail arrives in my home, the odds that I might need you in that particular moment in time are extremely slim,” he said. “The odds that I’ll need you eventually go up as time goes on. So, if I keep that mailing, or better yet, you send me multiple mailings, that combination of stuff may generate the call.
“Two things may happen. One, even if I use the postcard, only one postcard is going to get credit for generating the call, when it may be the totality of a number of postcards that generated the brand awareness. The second limitation is a lot of people may keep the postcard, but they still go to Google to get your phone number. Tracking is very important, and I encourage our members to do it as often as possible. But, I also encourage them to look at it appropriately and to understand the human element in how people make decisions and where they find phone numbers.”
There are several advantages to digital marketing, according to Alyssa Young, director of digital marketing, Graphic D-Signs Inc., Washington, New Jersey.
“The beautiful thing about digital marketing is you can measure and compare growth,” she said. “It really gives you solid data, whereas with a lot of print advertising, you don’t really know how many people saw your ad or paid attention to it. There are so many different ways you can measure things now, and it gives you data so you can budget wisely.”
The ultimate goal is to generate conversions, Young added.
“You want to make sure your marketing is generating leads and people who are potential customers are becoming customers. If you can track that, it’s the best way to measure success.
“The two biggest measurements of success we use are separate phone numbers and contact forms submitted on the company website. They can be easily tracked with digital marketing. We also rely a lot on Google analytics to tell us about the types of traffic companies get on their websites. It tells us where people came from, which pages are most read, and things like that. It’s more data that you can use. For example, looking at the traffic on your website for the month or for the year, how much was organic versus how much came from paid search versus how much came from social media. Those are all separate tactics you may invest in separately. Looking at the percentage of eyeballs you’re getting as a result of those efforts and comparing the growth either year over year or across a specific period allows you to see if things are working or if things are changing.”
Young said Graphic D-Signs completes in-depth reports for its clients every month. “A month is a pretty good timeframe because it can capture enough data to see the trends. We do recommend looking month to month for changes, because sometimes that can be an early indicator that there’s a problem. For example, if there was a change in the Google algorithm and your website is not performing as well in search anymore, you may see the result of that going month to month.
Year over year is also a really important metric for HVAC contractors because of the seasonality of the business. So, in August it may be really hot, but not as warm in September, so your traffic may not be as high in September because people don’t need your services. It’s helpful to compare September’s numbers to the previous September when the weather was similar. Keep looking year over year as well as month to month to make sense of it. You need to get the full picture.”
There are two schools of thought when it comes to marketing, according to Adams Hudson, president of Hudson Ink, Montgomery, Alabama. The first is the older school of thought, where every dollar in needs to yield dollars out. The second says you increase your dollar amount, reach, and product service offerings — market accordingly — and by the end of the year, you should have more dollars as a result overall.
“That second one is a little vague, but that is actually the way of the world now because it’s getting harder and harder to assign individual results,” Hudson said. “Marketing definitely needs to be measured as all things that are measured get improved. But contractors need to get out of measuring individual ads for performance and start measuring campaigns and looking at strategy.”
The marketing and advertising world has shifted past ads and into overall strategy, Hudson noted. “It drives contractors crazy because people say everything has to be measured. So, they look at their AdWords campaign, Facebook posts, and how much time and money they’re spending. Honestly, it comes down to if a guy is going to be able to attach a dime’s worth of value to whether his trucks are striped or his techs are wearing uniforms, because those are marketing decisions. And they should all have this defining version of value, but it drives people into self-induced psychosis to do it. So, the better approach is to pick a market of people to sell to, pick a message of combined services and products, and then find what media that market listens to, reads, or watches. Then you have the elements of a campaign, not an individual ad that can and should be measured.”
Contractors need to diversify their marketing budgets as they would their financial investments, Hudson noted.
“There is always the metric of how much you should spend in marketing,” he said. “It seems to be this voodoo brew of nobody really knows. The next person selling you media will be happy to tell you what you should spend on his or her media because, obviously, that person’s paycheck is tied to it.
A financial advisor will ask about you, your family, your health, assess your risk, and then tell you if you are conservative, moderate, or aggressive. And that is exactly how a contractor needs to assign his or her marketing dollars. So 2.5-5 percent would be conservative, 5-6 percent would be moderate, and 7-10 percent would be aggressive.”
Additionally, there are three things that are sure to generate higher responses within a campaign, Hudson added.
“Always keep the names on your list – never throw away a lead unless someone tells you to never bother them again,” he said. “Always be willing to cross sell and upsell. Too often, techs go in with blinders on to only repair or replace the one thing on the yellow invoice instead of looking at the holistic approach of other services offered. The last one, and potentially the best one, is asking customers for referrals. Psychologically, the best time to ask for a referral is when the customer utters the words: ‘Thank you.’ If they say no, they say no. But if they say yes, you potentially double or triple your leads.”
Bob Viering, vice president, Service Nation Alliance, said while he’s known a lot of companies that have managed to succeed without tracking marketing in any way, most contractors are better served to measure metrics.
“And that means not just tracking the results of the things you do, but tracking ROI [return on investment] and spending to figure out what’s working well and what’s not.”
However, there are different types of marketing that won’t show any ROI. These are called top-of-mind awareness ads, and they’re difficult to track. “These ads don’t have a direct call to action. They’re designed to just throw the company’s name out there and hope somebody picks them up and calls, so the ROI will look pale. I recommend doing more direct-response advertising because it creates a desire for someone to call you. I tell people not to do top of mind because often times your direct-response ads will earn you top of mind. You don’t just have to get your name out there like Coca-Cola or Nike.”
Marketing budgets vary from company to company, but Service Nation Alliance typically tells its members to expect to spend about 8 percent of their sales on marketing and advertising if they’re in growth mode.
“I’ve known companies that shave spent twice that much and more, but, for the most part, if you’re doing it well, and you’re being nimble about it, 8 percent should be enough,” Viering noted. “What I mean by nimble is don’t just advertise blindly and spend $2,000 every month on one thing. If you don’t need the calls that month, then back off and save the money for another month. There are companies that have plans, and once in motion, they stick to them. Nothing changes those plans. But, most companies are better served to be more nimble than that.
“Most smaller contractors we deal with, and some of the larger ones, kind of want someone to do the marketing for them,” he continued. “They want somebody to tell them to do this and that and promise them success. But, that doesn’t work. The owner, general manager, or whoever needs to be involved. You never want to just give up control of everything and let someone else plan it for you. There’s so much to do and so many things to be aware of. We get asked all the time to create marketing plans, but we can’t do that unless we spend a lot of time with you and strategize, get to know your customers, and learn your market.
“There’s no quick fix when it comes to marketing and advertising,” concluded Viering. “You have to get out there, try it, track it, test it, and try it again. Every market is different, and every customer is different.”
Publication date: 2/20/2017